Competitive Bidding Still Above City Staff’s Pay Grade


Sixth Ward Ald. Marc Mazzuca very well may have the best analytical skills on the Park Ridge City Council…and better than those of any member of City staff.

As we noted in our 02.17.14 post, Mazzuca is the guy who “did some necessary nitpicking about City staff’s cavalier treatment of the competitive bidding process.”  But in our 05.08.13 post, we called Mazzuca “the kind of guy who, armed with an MBA from the University of Chicago, can spend an hour drilling down into a potato chip.”

It was the latter trait that he demonstrated once again this past Monday night during one of the more tedious segments of any City Council meeting.  Ever.

As chair of the Council’s Procedures and Regulations Committee, Mazzuca apparently crafted a purchasing process that he would like the City to adopt.  While that process probably could be a model for General Motors, had he presented it to GM’s management in the manner he presented it Monday night, it probably wouldn’t have received any better a reception than it did from his fellow aldermen and City staff.

It’s not that there was anything inherently wrong with Mazzuca’s process.  Frankly, we’re pretty sure we don’t entirely understand it, and we’d hazard a guess that neither do those members of City staff who would have to implement it, or the aldermen who will decide whether or not to approve it.

One flaw in Mazzuca’s process, however, is that he seems to have constructed it without enough input from the staff – and at times Monday evening he seemed impervious to questions and criticisms from those people, even the ones that sounded like something other than simply obstructionist beefs from folks bristling at any kind of competitive bidding.

While most aldermen did not look or sound prepared for Mazzuca’s onslaught, staff seemed too defensive to seriously consider the points he was making about the current City process and procedures.

When it comes to matters that require painstaking analysis, Mazzuca may be the smartest person in the room.  But he doesn’t advance his own agenda or the taxpayers’ business when he makes it obvious that he knows it.

The aldermen also didn’t look or sound prepared for, or interested in, sparring with Fire Chief Mike Zywanski over his department’s recommendation that the City buy five Zoll defibrillators to replace the City’s five current Zoll defibrillators.

You might remember that purchase, which we wrote about in several posts, including “Is It Fraud Or Is It Negligence” and “Chief Z’s Still A Zoll Man”.   Despite a year of trying to create the semblance of a legitimate competitive bidding process after Chief Z tried to push this purchase through on a no-bid basis, what he and his staff came up seems contrary to the principles of competitive bidding as we understand it.

As can be seen from the Deputy Fire Chief’s Agenda Cover Memorandu, despite the bids having been opened on January 23, as of February 24 the “Total Cost” of this competitively-bid purchase is “TBD”: To Be Determined.

Say what?  After conducting a competitive bidding process over a month ago they still don’t know what the price is?

From the Minutes of the January 28 Bid Evaluation Committee meeting and the related e-mails, it sounds like NONE of the bids complied with the bid specifications.  But instead of throwing out all the noncompliant bids, as is customarily the case, the Committee decided to use them as a starting point for manufacturing bids based on questions the Committee would submit.


Not surprisingly, the Minutes of the Committee’s February 3 meeting note that “the bid numbers…were preliminary numbers” because the Committee still didn’t have all the answers from the clarifying questions.  But, lo and behold, when all the questions were answered and all the smoke cleared, the Minutes from the February 12 Committee meeting confirmed that…wait for it…ZOLL! turned out to be the low “bidder.”

How convenient!

Betting on Zoll in this game of “competitive” (allegedly) bidding roulette was about as sure a thing as betting on 22 at Rick’s cafe in “Casablanca” was for that Bulgarian couple.

So long as Rick, or Chief Z, was calling the shots.

To read or post comments, click on title.

12 comments so far

Just want to add for emphasis, when you look at the minutes from all those meetings, City Attny Hill is/was on that committee and present at all meetings. Also no the committee and present was….wait for it…..the freakin’ City Manager.

Your last sentence referenced Chief Z calling the shots. It is important to note he was doing it in broad daylight….right in front of his boss!!!!!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Casey Stengel, alive or dead, should be managing this crew. The only question is which one of them is “Marvelous” Marv Throneberry.

You wrote about this a year ago, when the Zolls would have cost $150,000. A year later, they are $158,000. Nice job, PW, you just cost the city’s taxpayers, who you claim your looking out for, $8,000.

EDITOR’S NOTE: That’s one way of looking at it.

On the other hand, the taxpayers got a full year of extra use out of the devices that Chief Z initially suggested were suspect, but then later admitted were still functional. By our calculations – based on Chief Z’s 02.06.13 memo to Hamilton that the cardiac monitor portion of the device has a 5-year life expectancy, and a $150K price tag – that extra year of service was worth at least $30,000 to the taxpayers, or a net gain of $22,000.

And the decision to hold off the purchase for a year was made by the Council, not by us – so you owe the Council a thank-you.

It sounds like Mazzuca did what he was supposed to do. It actually sounds like he was doing Hamilton’s job because Hamilton just went along with whatever the fire department wanted.

EDITOR’S NOTE: You may be mixing apples with oranges, because Mazzuca’s drilling down into the purchasing policy and precedures appears to have operated independently of the Zoll purchase.

603…the fire dudes said the City saved on the current deal and overall as there’s more equipment in the current deal than the in the prior. Know what you’re talking about before you spout off.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks for the defense, anon, but we would caution our readers not to accept at face value everything the “fire dudes” (or any other government dudes and dudesses) say, or suggest, or stay strangely silent about. Had we done so a year ago, the City would have bought the Zolls on a no-bid basis last February, and we already would have burned off one year of their useful lives.

There is a useful life on most appliances, even ones in your own home. Would you delay replacing your furnace after 20 years, because it still works, or do you become proactive and replace it before breaks, which according to Murphy’s Law, will happen at the most inopportune time. But we are talking about a Medical Device that saves peoples lives. Do you want to take a chance that you can get one more year out of it?

The fire dudes did their homework, maybe they even had a preference on the particular brand – might be because they are familiar with the product – and don’t need to learn a new system (which saves money in training costs).

The real issue here is the purchasing procedure. Delaying purchases because the current procedure is flawed is not a solution. It might even be dangerous (and I am not just saying that to inflate the issue) – and if the device does fail – what will that cost us taxpayers. This is the system in place right now – and from what I read, was followed by the City Manager, City Attorney, Fire Chief, etc.

So come up with a new purchasing procedure, let the officials have some input – since they are the ones that have to live with it on a daily basis – and move forward. Until that new policy is in place, we have to live with what we got. Dot your I’s, and cross your T’s, review, and APPROVE – don’t delay – especially on critical items.

They way I am looking at this now is the delay cost us taxpayers money – not only in the higher cost for the product – but also in the time spent by our city officials justifying (or not) this purchase. How much money was spent on that part? Did we just nickel and dime this issue so we could save money and then end up not saving money? Sometimes I wonder what the real montivation is here.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Nice name. Too bad your first comment proves that you suck at the job.

Who replaces a fully-functioning furnace pre-emptively unless there are performance problems or noticeable defects/wear and tear suggesting that failure is imminent? In that vein, once the Council called out Chief Z on his baseless “useful life” argument last March, he backed down and admitted he had no evidence of imminent failure with the current devices.

The fire dudes did NO “homework” back then, which is why Chief Z couldn’t produce ANY evidence of due diligence prior to his initial Zoll recommendation, as we discussed in great detail in our 02.18.13, 03.04.13 and 10.14.13 posts. And their “homework” since then appears to be nothing more than backfilling to manufacture the justification for their foreordained choice of Zoll.

We know scare tactics when we see them: You’re using them now, and Chief Z was using them a year ago until he got cross-examined into a corner that he couldn’t lie his way out of – the way he was able to do by stony silence when questioned about his firefighters contract negotiating
“guidelines” back in May 2011.

The purchasing system “in place right now” is a charade designed to give unaccountable bureaucrats – including the city manager, city attorney and fire chief – virtually unfettered discretion to do whatever and buy whatever they want, at virtually any price they can explain away by the many loopholes in this current system. Hopefully Ald. Mazzuca was able to close at least some of those.

And since you can’t/won’t quantify the time spent by “our city officials” in this effort, we’ll continue to view this Zoll saga as a $22,000 win for the taxpayers.

Since the bureaucrats are spending OPM, what’s the downside if they buy something sooner than necessary? Nothing. What’s the downside if they wait until something critical breaks? That depends. Personally, I’d rather have them err on the side of worrywart-ness and buy lifesaving items too soon. We have enough corporations stalling on safety equipment to save a buck, with the utterly predictable, horrific results every time. But when it comes to purchases that are not potentially life-and-death, elected officials must seriously question the “expected useful life” hogwash provided to the bureaucrats by the manufacturing companies who make the drek we the taxpayers buy. The “useful life” of a mattress is 8 years, according to the mattress industry. How many of us run out and obey that dictum?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Because we’re the “OP” in OPM, and there are all sorts of competing needs for it.

When Chief Z first came up with this “useful life” scare tactic you’re now using, he was asked point-blank whether the condition of this equipment jeopardized the safety of Park Ridge residents; and he said “no.” Subsequently, as the latest “competive” bidding simulation progressed, he or one of his deputies was asked that same question at least one other time and the answer was the same. So there really was no compromise of residents’ safety.

OK…I’ll bite….If, during the recent bidding process the answer was the same (Park Ridge residents are not jeopardized by the current equipment) why is it OK for them to now buy new equipment?

EDITOR’S NOTE: A reasonable question. If the Zoll approval is on Monday this coming night’s Council agenda, you should show up and ask that question.

My brother in law has several municipal/school district customers that require bidding from their vendors. I asked him about the process described in the City Council materials that you wrote about and he was surprised the purchase of a product like a defibbrilator cardiac monitor was done in this fashion. All of the specs for these monitors are readily available from the manufacturers, so the kind of customizing that was discussed in those documents means that somebody did a poor job of creating bid specs. But with those non-conforming bids, they should have been rejected and new bids requested.

This smells funny.

EDITOR’S NOTE: It smells like “the meat a-cookin’,” as former Sec’y of State Paul “Shoeboxes” Powell was fond of saying.

This whole story reminds me of the brouhaha over the dangerous mold in the police department, which, when funding for some reno was finally approved, was not even applied to that “urgent” remediation, and in the end, a good cleaning was the solution applied. Sheesh! We need our fussbudgets to fuss over the budget and at least make it as wearisome for staff to rubber-stamp vendor recommendations as it is for us to keep footing the bill. Thanks to all of the elected officials who take on the task of asking…and asking…and asking. And to you,too, PW.

EDITOR’S NOTE: All these things are “emergencies” until the elected guys start asking the tough questions.

This is a trust matter. Do we trust the bureaucrats who are running these processes? I for one do not, and I am glad our elected officials paid $1,200 a year are doing their best to keep the people making 100 times that honest. What a thankless task.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Doing right and keeping them honest should be its own reward.

Totally agree with anonymous just after midnight: Our elected officials are doing their jobs when they analyze, question, review and only THEN decide. My alderman, Dan Knight, took the time a couple of months back to write a newspaper article about the choices faced in the city’s annual budget. It was above all informative and clear. He clearly did his homework. Way to go, Dan. We notice these things. I wish for the same clarity at the school boards and the park district, both of which seem to be awash in numbers but precious little information. Come on, Tony Borrelli and Rick Biagi…keep asking the hard questions of the day-to-day bureaucrats. Don’t worry if they get mad…we elected you and we’re behind you.

PW, are you suggesting that Chief Z and the fire dudes may have been bribed to steer this deal to Zoll?

EDITOR’S NOTE: No. But given that the competitive bidding process is intended to get the best deal for the taxpayer AND to prevent corruption, the more public officials ignore the process, or try to twist and contort it in ways that don’t make any sense and seem to favor a particular bidder, the more they invite those kinds of suspicions.

Sadly enough, this IS Illinois, one of the – if not THE – most corrupt states in the country; AND, not coincidentally, arguably the most financially distressed state in the country. The only state in U.S. history (as best as we can tell) to ever have two former governors in prison at the same time. And we got this way in large part because stupid, naive and naroleptic taxpayers foolishly believed their public officials were on the legit.

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